30 July 2022

Experiencing Southampton’s neonatal unit

Mum of two, Marta, shares her experiences of our neonatal unit

“I work for a large bank in project and programme tech management, so I deal a lot with problem solving in my role. This came in use seven years ago when I had to juggle a poorly newborn in hospital and the rest of my family.

My first daughter, Isabella, now 9, was only two when her sister Elloin (Ellie) was born at Poole Hospital.

My pregnancy was straightforward all the way through to full term, except on the actual day of Ellie’s birth.

I had reached 38 and a half weeks, and I was scheduled for a natural birth.

When the time came, I started giving birth, but Ellie got her shoulder stuck in my pelvic bone. This is known as shoulder dystocia and had happened with Isabella too. It meant that while I had delivered her head, the rest of her body was stuck.

With the umbilical cord cutting off oxygen, time was of the essence.

After the birth, I needed emergency surgery while Ellie was transported immediately to the specialist neonatal intensive care unit at Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton for hypothermia treatment to cool her body, reducing the risk of brain injury.

When I woke from surgery, I was in shock and an hour away from my baby!

I was discharged the next day and went to Southampton immediately to be with Ellie. When I arrived on the unit her body was being cooled, but she was barely moving in the incubator.

I found it difficult to bond with her at this stage as I couldn’t do any more than to touch her. I couldn’t pick her up, I couldn’t breastfeed her. All the things I had done from birth with Isabella, I couldn’t do with Ellie.

It was hard for my husband and me as there were a lot of unknowns.

While the cooling treatment was being done as a preventative measure, medical staff couldn’t tell us at that time if there would be any long-term effects caused by the lack of oxygen during birth.

The staff were incredibly supportive, but there wasn’t anyone specifically talking about my mental health. While in hospital I was still in shock from the trauma of everything, so I probably wouldn’t have wanted to talk to anyone at that point, but down the line having some support would have been useful to understand what had happened.

At that time my full attention was on Ellie, and Isabella, when she visited and stayed with us in the Ronald McDonald House so we could all be closer to the unit.

During those first few days, we just couldn’t leave Ellie’s side.

After three days of cooling, the medical staff then monitored her for six to 12-hours to see if there were any medical issues following the withdrawal of the hypothermia treatment.

I was still expressing at this point and having breastfed with my eldest daughter it came fairly easily to me as I could now pick her up. Ellie was very hungry and so I’d get calls in the middle of the night as she wouldn’t settle!

At that point, things became a little bit easier as she was feeding and responding to us.

Ellie had an MRI scan, and thankfully as she didn’t present with any long-term issues caused by the lack of oxygen at birth, we were then transferred back to the NICU in Poole.

We are incredibly lucky as Ellie is bright and has no mobility or learning difficulties, but we know other families who have not been so lucky.

We continued to have appointments for two to three years so that they could check that she was meeting key milestones.

After that time, we were asked if we wanted to take part in a research study looking at brain injuries in newborn babies. There is still so much unknown about brain injuries so we’ve been more than happy to help, especially if it can help future families.

Supporting research into brain injuries

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a serious birth complication which affects 1 in 1,000 babies in the UK each year. Lack of oxygen and/or blood flow to a baby’s brain before, during labour or at birth, can lead to a brain injury or HIE.

With your support, we can provide families with the help they need and make sure they aren’t facing an HIE diagnosis alone.

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